Sunday, January 31, 2016

Track of the Week: Glenn Frey "Party Town"

With all of the deaths of celebrities in the field of music this year, it's been interesting to note the difference in the reactions to the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey.  Bowie's death brought a much, much greater outpouring of grief and tribute, even though he was far less successful (in terms of records sold) than the Eagles were in America.  In fact, the Eagles have the biggest selling rock record in American history despite the lack of a passionate following (something I tried to explain in a previous blog post.)  There probably isn't an hour that goes by that "Hotel California" isn't played somewhere on a classic rock station in America.  The Eagles made middle of the road music, and their fans were the kind of people who aren't nearly as passionate about music as the fans of David Bowie.

Now I don't want to speak ill of the dead here with any of this.  The Eagles did have some real high points, and their greatest hits album has sold so well because of them.  I am just young enough (born in '75), that I learned about the band through the solo careers of Glenn Frey and Don Henley.  From about 1983 I was listening to Top 40 radio daily and well aware of the big hits of the day, which is where I first their names. In the autumn of 1984, both artists were vying against each other for chart supremacy with two very different songs: Henley's moody and elegiac "Boys Of Summer" and Frey's bright shiny sax-driven stab at 80s pop cheese "The Heat Is On."  Frey's song went higher on the charts, but Henley's is probably more beloved today.

The Frey song that I remember best is probably one few people even know these days: "Party Town."  It's from his first solo album, the lamely titled No Fun Aloud.  As is usually the case with the first solo album by a major member of a major rock band, it's much more uneven that what he was able to do once he got his footing as a solo act.  I know the song because the local hits station would play it every Friday at 5PM.  When I was still in school it was a happy signal that the weekend was about to begin.  It took on a much deeper meaning the summer that I worked the day shift at a rubber parts factory while I was in college.  I'd worked the evening swing shift the summer before, but nothing could prepare me for the sheer force of the daytime summer heat outdoors combined with the hot air around the machines I tended all day.  I brought a jug of water with me to work every day, which would be drained before lunch, when I refilled it, only to be drained again in the afternoon. Some days my jeans were falling down my hips after all the sweating I'd done.

We always had the radio going at work, and when "Party Town" came on as the shift was ending, it was a kind of deliverance.  My week of toil and sweat was finally over, with a summer weekend stretched before me and some money in my pocket.  (We got paid every Friday)  And hey, it's a fun little song using that tried and true Chuck Berry guitar with a bit of "take this job and shove it" sass.  I like to remember Glenn Frey not as the dude from the Eagles, but as the guy responsible for such a happy memory.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Donald Trump Won Last Night's Republican Debate...And He Didn't Show Up

Last night Donald Trump made quite the stir by not attending the Republican debate.  His ostensible reason was that Megan Kelly was going to be there, but I get the feeling that was a bit of a front on Trump's part.  His debate performances have been pretty lackluster recently, in large part because he doesn't really prepare.  I read a description of his rallies recently, which sound like Trump just standing there and rambling and hitting his usual points without much organization or detail.  Now far ahead of his opponents in the national polls, Trump had everything to lose by submitting to a debate on the eve of the caucus, especially with Fox News (the GOP's unofficial house organ) in charge of things.  He also happened to steal the spotlight, getting a ton of media attention and in the process deprive Fox of its ratings. The latter I think was a deliberate power-play on his part.  Trump seems to have a fondness for trolling others and showing them who's boss.  I am still flabbergasted that such a deeply unpleasant and manifestly monomaniacal person is getting such levels of support.

Trump also happened to win the debate by not showing up.  Now this was not a foregone conclusion, but the result of the weakness of his opposition. The debate could have been an opportunity for the candidates to prove, in Trump's absence, that the Republican party is a highly functioning organization with ideas to offer to solve the nation's problems.  Instead, it exposed a party gone off the rails, dysfunctional and playing the lowest common denominator of its base.  No single candidate was able to use the debate to elevate himself to the position of the anti-Trump as a result.

The more I think about it, the crazier this situation seems to me.  I have to strain my brain, but I can remember a time when the Republican Party was a much different beast.  I put the cut-off around the time of the 1994 takeover of Congress by Newt Gingrich.  Before that time, the notion that Republicans would try to shut down the government to get what they want or to impeach the president over issues in his personal life would've been ridiculous.  Republicans held to policies that I did not agree with, but they appeared to be serious people who I at least had to listen to.  On that stage Bush and Kasich, who were on the conservative end of the party in the 90s, were the only candidates to fit into this category.  They also happen to lag far behind in the polls.  Bush especially seems like a relic of a bygone time.  At least in this debate he sounded like he had some fire in his belly.

The other candidates simply cannot be taken seriously by anyone who is not already a conservative Republican.  Carson and Cruz are just flat-out non-starters. Paul's libertarianism (he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act) also puts him on the fringe.  Christie actually had the chutzpah to go after Clinton's emails while an indictment involving hidden emails is hanging over his own head.  Rubio once looked like the great establishment hope, but he comes across as a total lightweight, searching for ways to work in his slogans whenever he can.  On top of that, despite his youth, his political positions are actually very far right, especially in foreign policy.  For the most part these candidates doled out red meat to the baying hounds of the conservative base. It is nearly impossible for me to imagine any of them as leaders of such a diverse and multifaceted nation such as ours.

In a way, this the consequence of a strategy that has been very successful for Republicans in other areas.  They have been ginning up the outrage of their base from the day that Barack Obama took office, and have used that outrage to win lightly attended midterm elections and to get ideologues in charge of Republican-heavy states.  The result has been a Congress unwilling to compromise, and the likes of Brownback, Walker, and Snyder shredding the social contracts of their states.  They can dominate local elections with low turnout, but when it comes to the one national election (for president), that same base frightens off the middle-of-the-road voters who only come out every four years.  This causes much angst with the base, who often blame the losses by McCain and Romney on the fact that they were not conservative enough.

The result is a dysfunctional party that is very good at throwing up roadblocks and winning local elections, but is tearing itself apart.  Trump's presence has exposed all of this.  A large number of conservative voters want more than dog whistles on immigration, and Trump gives them full on hatred.  While they want to deny welfare to "those people" those same voters want a social safety net for themselves, and thus aren't really behind the Koch-ist libertarianism popular in much of the party's establishment.  Trump, who has pledged to fund Social Security and Medicare, seems to understand this, too.  They want military victory but without any long-term occupations, and Trump too promises such a magical outcome.  The GOP has benefited from having an engaged base of supporters, but now appear unable to control them, or to get them to keep voting for candidates who don't really want to give them what they want.  Trump, unlike other pretenders to the conservative crown, has the independence, force of personality, and fame to actually unify that base.  Don't be surprised if the establishment doesn't decide to throw their lot in with him, if only to save their own skins by going with the base of their party.  These are strange and scary times indeed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Keep The DH Status Quo

Who DOESN'T enjoy watching Bartolo Colon bat?

It's late January, when thoughts of baseball distract me from the horrors of winter's depths.  It's only 21 days until pitchers and catchers report, so I figure I can start to get excited.  I've also been thinking a lot about the game of baseball in the larger sense, and wondering what new commissioner Manfred will do to make his mark.

Recently he hinted that the National League might adopt the designated hitter, perhaps as soon as 2017.  This must've just been a trial balloon, because he quickly pulled back after getting feedback.  I am glad he did, and I hope that the DH never comes to the National League.  I like the National League style of baseball more than that of the American League, and the inefficiency of the pitcher batting has a lot to do with that.  It forces certain strategic difficulties on managers that add a level of interest to the game.  Teams have to fight a little harder for runs, and that fight for runs is the best tension there is in baseball.  I also hate specialization in sports, which is one of the many things that sucks about pro football, which is so specialized that there are players whose sole purpose it is to snap the ball on kicks and punts.  Without the DH, all of the players must both bat and field a position.  There is a symmetry to that that I like.

Of course, there are plenty of good arguments to be made for the DH.  Who wants to see pitchers hit?  Who wants pitchers to get injured running the bases?  Offense is down, doesn't it need a boost? The DH has also become the standard at other levels of baseball, turning the once odd innovation of the 1970s into the new norm.  When teams play in the World Series, the inconsistency on the DH between the leagues can create problems when teams have to either bench top hitters or try to scrounge up a bench player adequate to a task the team never had to deal with during the season.

And you know what?  Those arguments are perfectly valid.  That's why, unlike some purists over the years, I have no problem with the DH in the American League.  While I prefer baseball without the DH, one thing I truly love about baseball is the distinctions between the two leagues.  These have been worn down by interleague play, and that's a bad thing.  It's an advantage baseball has over, say, football, where there is no real difference between the AFC and NFC.  It's great to see two different styles of play, rather than one.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Baseball is an idiosyncratic game, and should cling to those idiosyncracies.  There is no set stadium dimension, which means we have the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium and the massive green monster at Fenway.  Different umpires call the strike zone differently.  The two leagues play the game differently.  We live in a society that's been systematized to the breaking point, baseball's resistance to those forces ought to be preserved.

Monday, January 25, 2016

On Not Feeling The Bern

As the primaries approach, I have a sinful admission to make: I’m not feeling the Bern.

Don’t get me wrong, I will gladly vote for him in the primaries, barring some crazy occurrence between now and then.  I am glad to have the chance to pull the lever for an actual social democrat whose platform probably comes closest to my point of view of an candidate for president has in my lifetime. 

That being said, it is difficult for me to muster enthusiasm or to identify myself strongly with Sanders.  I don't plan on buying any bumper stickers or signs.  I have almost been completely bled of political idealism.  Perhaps it’s due to some disillusioning life experiences I’ve had in the last ten years, or maybe it’s just the inevitable hardening of outlook that comes in middle age.  There is a naivete to Sanders’ campaign and in his supporters that puts me off.  It’s the same naivete on the Left that has been irritating and frustrating me for most of my adult life. 

If Sanders beats the odds and is elected president, he will be dealing with a Republican House dominated by conservative ideologues, and maybe also a Senate containing the likes of Ted Cruz, who can use his (ridiculous) Senatorial privileges to block legislation all by himself.  None of Sanders’ sweeping proposals have much of a chance of succeeding in an environment where Obamacare repeal resolutions are submitted and voted up on a monthly basis.  To get things done will require Democratic supermajorities or a canny ability to use what power and leverage he has, which Obama has managed to do.  Sanders' style doesn't show much capacity for the nitty gritty work of politics.

Beyond that, does anyone seriously envision him as a world leader?  Whether we like it or not, that's actually the most important aspect of the modern presidency.  Foreign policy is the place where presidents have a lot of authority and control.  At the debates he keeps with his message reducing inequality and the power of money in politics, but he seems to display a lack of thought or reflection about his potential role as a world leader.  (This issue doesn't make me support, Hillary, by the way. She is most definitely a liberal interventionist and as such too hawkish for me by half.)  Just because a lot of his supporters don't care about foreign policy doesn't change the fact that it is absolutely essential.  

Deep down I think the big issue behind all of this is that when Sanders decided to run he did so without any actual desire to be president.  I think he conceived of his candidacy as a way to get certain issues of inequality front and center, and to energize the left wing of the Democratic Party, and in that he has been very successful.  He has done that job so well that he is able to seriously challenge Clinton, at least in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Now with changing fortunes maybe he is actually running as if he seriously wants to be president, as a friend theorized to me recently.  He may be right.  That still doesn't inspire confidence in me.

Now of course I am still voting for him because I am of the mind that I ought to vote for the candidate who best represents my interests and viewpoints.  This reflects, to my mind, my own version of political pragmatism.  What bothers me is that so many Sanders supporters seem to act as if politics is an exercise in pure idealism.  When people like Paul Krugman say things very similar to what I have said, they get upset.  When Ta-Nehisi Coates criticized Sanders' unwillingness to acknowledge the intersection of race and class, they were even more upset.  When Clinton's campaign started Red-baiting Sanders, they grew apoplectic.  Now there are legitimate critiques of what Krugman and Coates had to say, and Clinton's Red-baiting is just wretched, but responding to critiques of your candidate with a "how dare you" tone shows a remarkable lack of political intelligence.

Politics is a blood sport.  It always has been, it always will be.  If you are upset Clinton's allies are Red-baiting Sanders, you HIT THEM BACK, not whine about how the game isn't being played fairly.  Politics is about getting shit done for you constituents, period.  I can't eat ideals.  Ideals don't pay the rent or put my kids though college.  This is why New York's old Tammany Hall, as corrupt as it was, stayed in power.  It brought home the bacon to its poor constituents, and they rewarded it with their votes.  Anyone in their position who wouldn't do so would've been an idiot.  Sanders proposes all kinds of things that I think would be great for me and for most of the people in this country, but if he doesn't propose these things in the context of current political realities, what's the point?  

The Left needs to end its juvenile cult of the beautiful loser.  The point of the political game is to WIN dammit.  It's not to be a better person than your opponent.  I don't like writing that, but that's the damn truth.  I love Sanders' ideas and his passion, but what would a Sanders presidency actually accomplish?  As of now, I would have to say not much.  That, ultimately, is why even though Sanders has my vote, I am not feeling the Bern.  That doesn't make me a reactionary, it makes me realistic, and the Left could use a hefty dose of realism.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Track of the Week: Jimmy Ruffin "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted"

I'm currently snowed in, in the midst horrible blizzard.  I've shoveled three times today, just to keep things from getting totally crazy.  Our boiler system is acting weird, so I have to check it every half hour and manually restart it because it keeps cutting out, and the repairman can't get here until tomorrow afternoon.

In the midst of this wretchedness it's good to revisit a favorite song of dejection. Motown churned a lot of hits off of their amazing assembly line back in the mid-1960s, but perhaps none pulls on the heartstrings like Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted."  It is the kind of lament full of Weltschmerz that only classic soul and country songs can truly speak to.  How many pop songs start with a line like "As I walk this land of broken dreams"?

Jimmy's younger brother David was the more famous Ruffin as a member of the Temptations, but this song was his chance to shine.  He gives the morose lyrics a wonderful kind of confidence, as if the brokenhearted listening to this song can think that somehow, even though "happiness is just an illusion," tomorrow can be a better day.

This is an adult song trafficking in adult emotions.  I don't mean to be all Old Man Bear here, but modern pop music so rarely touches on these themes, regardless of genre. It's all bragging, partying, or indie rock irony.  Now that I'm middle aged, I crave songs about disappointment, dejection, and quiet desperation.  In my mind I am always hearing "What's Become Of The Broken Hearted" in an empty dive bar in Michigan, snow coming down on a dark night.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Penn Station Project (Beer Coolers)

The above picture represents one of my Friday afternoon commuting rituals.  If I'm not able to do happy hour with some of my colleagues, I brown bag a tallboy can of beer on the train ride home.  This is technically against the rules of New Jersey Transit, but only the written rules.  It is not in violation of the unwritten rules.  As long as I keep it hidden, don't litter or spill, and not bother anyone else, the conductors will turn a blind eye.

Vendors in Penn Station are well aware of this.  When you walk down the main concourse, you'll notice various pizzerias and sub sandwich shops, all of which have massive plexiglass, open-topped coolers full of ice and tallboy beer cans.  They also have beer taps, and I have seen some people walk away with massive Big Gulp sized containers, sipping their beer through a straw, which I refuse to do. This practice seems much more common among the riders on the Long Island Railroad, make of that what you will.

Not all of these places in the concourse are created equal.  Many offer only Yuengling as the sole alternative to Bud Light.  A couple of places, however, regularly have craft beer of top quality available.  I have no idea what the names of these places are, I just know them by sight and by their location on the concourse.  For a short glorious time one of the places was stocked with Bell's beer, a label I consumed with much gusto when I lived in Michigan, and which isn't easy to find in these parts.  For a couple of glorious Fridays I ended the working week sipping on a smooth Bell's brown ale, remembering the past and drifting into a zone of mental relaxation.

That's why the conductors will never bust me and the other tired people nursing beers on the train.  We tend not to be boisterous (those are the folks getting on the train wrecked after happy hour), but introspective.  This also happens to be why I never stick around to take the trains that leave around 7 on a Friday, since they are full of drunk yahoos.  I like stepping off the train, feeling refreshed and I little buzzed, ready to greet my wife and kids and enjoy a relaxing weekend together.  I hear that a removal of the coolers is in the works.  Why can't they just let us worn out commuters enjoy this simple privilege?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sarah Palin's Apt Return

Sara Benincasa's Palin impersonation is not as famous as Tina Fey's, but maybe more uncanny

When heard the news today that Sarah Palin was endorsing Trump, I chuckled a bit.  Does she actually matter anymore?  Would anyone's vote be swayed by her opinion?  After thinking about it, I realized that this moment is actually very important from a symbolic point of view.

Palin is effectively the prophet of Trump, his John the Baptist so to speak.  In 2008, when John McCain (to his everlasting credit) refused to question Barack Obama's American-ness or to play the guilt by association game, Sarah Palin jumped at the chance to do so.  All of her "maverick" talk of "real America" was the first sign that a large portion of the conservative base was thirsty for their leaders to engage in white identity politics.

Palin's discovery would be noted by the honchos of the conservative movement.  Once Obama took power, the Tea Party hordes were unleashed on a steady diet of "real American" identity politics.  Remember Glenn Beck's "we surround them" rhetoric?  Or the "makers versus takers" rallying cry that had at its core an anxiety that white people were going to have to give up their tax dollars to people of color?  (The same folks sounding this alarm also said things like "keep the government's hands off of my Medicare," so there were not principled Cato Institute libertarians, here.)  The Tea Party's biggest call to arms was the proclamation that they were going to "take our country back."  Who the "our" was and who it was being taken back from was never openly stated (as it never is in "post-racial" America) but the subtext was plain as day.

Palin herself was never able to be the leader of the masses that she helped inspire, most likely because she has always seemed more interested in celebrity than political power.  (No one interested in political power quits being governor halfway through their term.)  And so the Republican leadership managed to get an establishment candidate on the ballot on 2012 in the form of Romney, but also lost some Senate races due to the extremism (Todd "legitimate rape" Aken, anyone) of some of their Tea Party nominees.  Without a leader and frustrated by the party leadership's unwillingness to cater to the Tea Party or to go full blown nativist in their rhetoric, Trump managed to swoop in and capture the same people that had been shouting some, er, "interesting" things at Palin rallies in '08.

By endorsing Trump, Palin is not necessarily making a desperate grab at relevance, but perhaps to take credit for a politics that she helped unleash and that Trump has been able to appeal to with great success.  In fact, the last six years of American politics have been dominated by the demands of the Tea Party and their periodic hostage taking gambits via the debt ceiling and resolve to destroy immigration reform.  When the history of these times is written in future decades, I get the feeling that Palin's emergence in '08 will be well remembered.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Is Trumpism "The Socialism Of Idiots"?

August Bebel

A lot of the discourse these days about Trump says that his supporters are the dispossessed members of the shrinking white middle class and the embattled white working class.  I am not really sure if I buy this.  Trump strikes me as an extreme herrenvolk Rightist in the tradition of the Birchers and George Wallace.  He seems to be attracting people who are into that way of thinking, not necessarily because of their social class.


To the extent that this is true, I am reminded of August Bebel's deathless quip that "Anti-Semitism is the socialism of idiots."  Bebel was one of the leaders of the German Social Democrats of the late 19th and early 20th century, and witness to the rise of the scourge of anti-Semitism.  I've found this quotation applicable in many instances because Bebel is commenting on how the social class resentments of those lower on the social order can be exploited.  To the extent that Trump appeals to to white working and middle classes, he is telling them that their economic struggles are the fault of the Chinese and Mexican immigrants.  He invokes paranoia and hatred against Muslims, further appealing to white racial fears.

The last forty years have been an economic disaster for the majority of people in this country, and the loss of factories and farms is now being felt with a drastically elevated death rate among lower-educated whites.  This phenomenon has been much commented on, but few have tried to divine its political impacts.  Downwardly-mobile whites might well be reacting to their situation by clinging furiously to their whiteness and the privileges that go with it, one of the few things they have left.  If someone is telling them that they can "take our country back" and is directing his ire at immigrants and Muslims, he doesn't need to spell it out for them.  They might not have well-paying jobs and might live in some crumbling old mill town or hollowed out farming village or depopulating exurb, but dammit, this country is still theirs.  Conservatives have had the ability to appeal to this sentiment, but Trump has gone for broke and made it the center of his campaign without cloaking it in dog whistles.

Now if Trumpism is indeed the socialism of idiots (for white people), the Left needs to get its act together.  The Democratic Party has been so beholden to the wealthy elite that it rarely makes the case that there is a need to redistribute wealth in order to halt the growing inequality crushing so many under its wheels.  This is why a 74 year old senator from a tiny state who had been an independent socialist for most of his career is currently poised to challenge Hilary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

David Bowie "Ashes To Ashes"

Even though I've already written about David Bowie this week, I couldn't not have one of his songs as my track of the week.  I was in the midst of revisiting his work in the week before he died, and since his death I have been listening to his music non-stop.  I've come away with two conclusions: that he was truly a unique genius, and that I want "Life On Mars?" played at my funeral.

"Ashes to Ashes" is an interesting song because although it was the first single from Bowie's first album of the 80s, it was the curtain closer for his "long seventies" between 1969 and 1980.  This was a truly brilliant run where he jumped from peak to peak in stunning fashion.  His first truly great song from 1969 was "Space Oddity," and so it was fitting that the character of Major Tom from that song would be brought back by Bowie at the end of that time in his career.

Of course, this is not a happy return.  "Space Oddity" came out in the midst of the first lunar landing, when the optimism of the sixties had not yet died out and human possibility seemed limitless.  In 1980, after years of economic stagnation and the long hangover from the sixties, the conservative blue meanies were back in full force in Thatcher's Britain while Reagan was poised to sweep into power.  In the song, it's revealed that Major Tom is now a junkie, "Strung out on heaven's high/ Feeling an all time low."  The hippie dream had given way to cold harsh reality in the starkest way possible.  Bowie was never much of a hippie, part of the reason that he was able to thrive in the 1970s.

During the song he seems to be looking back on his own life, "I've never done good things/ I've never done bad things/ I've never done anything out of the blue."  The invocation of "ashes to ashes" implies death, of course.  It seems to be in retrospect a straightforward announcement on Bowie's part that the shape-shifting and wild experimentation are coming to an end, that he has said what he needed to say.  His next album, Let's Dance, would not come until three years later, quite different from the 1969-1980 period, when he put out thirteen studio albums.  Let's Dance would also mark a period where Bowie was making pop music responding to the trends of the time, rather than setting them himself.

In the meantime, "Ashes to Ashes" still to this day sounds strikingly fresh.  It is layered, intricate, and edgy all at once with synthesized noises that I've never heard replicated elsewhere.  Critics have noted how influential this all was on the "New Romantic" New Wave acts like Duran Duran and Human League, who through MTV would bring together the marriage of sound and vision pioneered by Bowie into the living rooms of America.  It is a telling fact that "Ashes to Ashes" was a number one song in the UK, but didn't crack the top 100 in America.  Bowie had a towering influence on the bands coming out of England, Americans were impacted by him in a more second-hand fashion by the wave of British New Wave hitting American shores in the 80s.  By that time Bowie had figured out how to assault the American charts, and it was with "Modern Love," not "Ashes to Ashes."  For that reason, I think it's Americans my age, who went back to Bowie's 70s work after being curious about his impact on the British stuff we liked in the 80s, who have been the most saddened by the man's death.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cranky Bear On Cruz and "New York Values"

[Editor's Note: Cranky Bear is an angry, impolitic friend of mine who is constantly sending me missives for this blog.  I don't publish them all, but I think Cranky was so upset this time around that I felt like throwing him a bone.]

Cranky Bear here, with some bourbon on the rocks and a bone to pick with one Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz.  Y'see last night I's watching the dumpster fire otherwise known as the Republican presidential debate, and witnessed Teddy boy say something that was completely obnoxious even by his standards.  Ol' Ted was questioned about his "New York values" comment, implying that Trump embodied those values, and thus was not representative of the people of Iowa. Given the opportunity to apologize, he did what every asshole does when they get caught: he doubled down.  He hit the "New York values" thing even harder, possibly because his head was swollen from just having made Trump look ridiculous with the issue of Cruz's eligibility.  Trump then turned it around hard on Cruz, invoking 9/11 and winning the crowd over.  Cruz was given another opportunity to walk it back today, and instead he wrote the smarmiest, most dickish nonpology I've ever seen, starting off with "I apologize to the millions of New Yorkers who have been let down by liberal politicians in that state."  He goes on to attack Andrew Cuomo for not supporting fracking, saying he's sorry for New Yorkers for losing out on jobs.  The man seems to relish adding injury to insult.

And you know what?  It will probably work out for him.  The hard right wing base of knuckle-dragging troglodytes just loves it when someone refuses to back down after being "politically incorrect" aka hateful/racist/super-dickish.  When Trump started insulting John McCain's military record, for instance, it garnered him MORE support.  Cruz has been paying attention.  Like all good sociopaths he knows the fastest way to tell people what they want to hear so that he can use them, even if he is doing it in the most two-faced way possible.  For example, he attacked Lawrence Tribe, who has questioned Cruz's eligibility, for being a liberal Harvard law professor, when Cruz himself was a graduate of Harvard law!  He rails against "New York values," including "concern with media and money" when he himself got a giant loan from a Wall Street bank and also goes to New York on the regular to ask for dough from fat cats. Not to mention the fact that he's just as big a whore for the media as the rest of gang vying to be president.

Cruz has three real talents.  The first is that he sells his bullshit so convincingly that people think he actually believes it, and the second is that he has learned how to sound like what a stupid person thinks a smart person sounds like.  The third, as I've mentioned, is that he knows how to push the right buttons with the drooling goobers who make up the fanatical base of the conservative movement.  He started the night last night by preempting a question about jobs so he could rail about Americans temporarily taken prisoner by Iran, and to basically promise that such behavior would result in a war if he were president.  Thus his announcement of such a blood-thirsty and potentially disastrous stance was met by wild cheering from the audience.

Cruz's attacks on New York are part of an old and successful strategy by conservative politicians to appeal to tribalism, whether it be Nixon's "Silent Majority" or Sarah Palin's "real America." While they are promoting policies that will destroy any chances of upward mobility for their supporters, they turn around and assure them that they stand for people "like them" and are against "those other people."

Okay, okay, at this point I am sounding more like my friend Werner than myself.  Now time for a little of that old time Cranky religion: Ted Cruz, please go fuck yourself. You are a two-faced lying asshole dripping with smarm and mendacity.  You want to know what New York values are, you slimy sack of shit? This morning on the subway I was surrounded by a multi-ethnic melting pot of hard-working people up before the break of dawn. I said hi, as I usually do, to the immigrant proprietor of the sweets stall by the Penn Station turnstiles.  When I go get a cup of coffee at the place near where I work, the manager always asks about my kids.  I have seen a man RUN to help a complete stranger who had slipped on the ice on 81st street.  I have seen heavily armed National Guard troops in Penn Station help direct lost tourists through its confusing tunnels.  I've lived all around this country, including Texas, and no one place has any kind of advantage when it comes to morality or decency.  To tell the people of this nation that people in New York are somehow deficient in this regard is a fucking lie that you are telling to exploit the resentment of the hate-filled trash that buy into your bullshit.

And one last thing, Teddy boy.  Dried cumstains like yourself never miss an opportunity to exploit the memory of 9/11 to justify your boners for war, Islamophobia, and the surveillance state.  Well guess what, you don't get to do that anymore.  9/11 is not theoretical or symbolic in the New York City area.  People actually DIED here by the thousands.  The scars are still there on the face of lower Manhattan.  If New Yorkers exist so you can insult them in your sick political game 364 days of the year, you don't for one fucking second get to claim their memory when September 11th rolls around. And you know what, Ted? Don't worry about apologizing.  After this election ends and you've lost, just please just go away and never come back.

Cranky bear out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Bowie Farewell Playlist

The death of David Bowie has hit me really hard.  The two most personally revealing things I've probably written for this blog were about my life during the period between 1997 and 2000 when I was in full-on Bowie obsession mode.  So what the hell, I'll be even more personal.  His music and performances really helped me to be comfortable with what I would call my non-traditional masculinity.  I went from years of feeling like I was some kind of abnormal being incapable of being manly to realizing that those standards were stupid and that I was right for not conforming to them.

It's been very difficult for me to put my feelings into words, and so many other people have been doing it and doing it better, so I don't have a lot to offer.  Instead, I'd like to offer up a short playlist of five songs that have been comforting this week, and which will probably stay with me forever.

"Life on Mars?"

I put this one on last night, and my wife enthusiastically said "Yes! This is what I want to hear!"  It is a haunting song from Bowie's early period ostensibly about a mousy young woman going to the movies by herself feeling lost but looking for the company of the images on screen.  These movies end up being a "saddening bore," leading her to ask whether there is life on Mars, or at least some other world less dreadful than this one.  The lyrics are not completely straight-forward, but that's the beauty of Bowie.  I can picture this song perfectly in my mind every time I hear it, but it won't be how anyone else pictures it.  I am now firmly convinced that I want it played at my funeral.

"Width Of A Circle"

Although it may be a cliche to say this, cliches are cliches for a reason.  Bowie's shape-shifting ways made him the first post-modern rock star and had a huge influence on others.  Before he figured out the Ziggy Stardust persona, he could rock out, glam style.  As good as the Ziggy era was, none of his songs, including "Rebel Rebel," rock quite like "Width Of A Circle."  This hard-rocking version of Bowie came after his being a mod in the mid-60s and slightly folkie in the late 60s, before letting his camp side out on Hunky Dory, which came right before Ziggy.  He changed images so often that The Man Who Sold The World gets lost in the shuffle, mostly because his work from 1969-1980 is so fertile that is probably the greatest run of that length by any rock act.


This is one of those few songs that the first time I heard it I literally could not believe what I was hearing.  I had never listened to anything quite like it before, and I must've listened to it ten times a day for a month afterward.  Bowie's Berlin music is probably my favorite of his many phases, and this song takes the amazing, otherworldly sound he was creating with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, and applies it to one of the most stirring rock ballads of all time.  I am going to just stop talking because this song really speaks for itself.

"Queen Bitch"

On Hunky Dory Bowie paid homage to many of his idols, from Andy Warhol to Bob Dylan.  This song was meant for the Velvet Underground's Lou Reed, and pushes ahead with a truly wonderful propulsion that makes it one of my favorite highway driving songs.  Bowie was one of the first people to understand the revolution latent in the Velvets' sound and adapt it to something new, rather than just imitate it. That act may very well be one of the most important great leaps forward in rock music history, and one of the least known.

"Word On A Wing"

When I heard of Bowie's death, this was one of the first songs to pop into my head.  It comes from Station to Station, the album he recorded in the mid-70s when he was at a low point of failing health and cocaine psychosis.  It's a song about grace, with heavy religious overtones.  In the midst of the worst, he sees a way out and a spiritual awakening. Yesterday I thought a lot about how Bowie's life could very well have ended forty years ago.  We were so fortunate to have him for so long, and now his breath has gone out, no longer lies like a word on a wing.  All that remains are the memories, and the music, and those I will carry with me.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ranking The Star Wars Films After Re-Watching Them All

After re-watching the prequels I heartily endorse Patton Oswalt's assessment of them

I finally managed to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens the week after Christmas, and now, I am finally able to write about it.  There are enough takes flying around out there about the film, so I decline to add my own.  Instead, I'd like to discuss it in context with the other Star Wars films, because I sat down and rewatched them all before seeing Force Awakens.  Here's my annotated ranking of the films now that I've seen them all again back to back:

1.  Empire Strikes Back
This was number one for me before the great rewatch, and seeing it again in juxtaposition to all the others just solidified that position.  In the first place, it looks amazing.  Evidently there were cost overruns in making it, but it looks like it was money well spent.  The original looks a little chintzy in spots, and Jedi has parts that could have looked better, too.  Unlike all the other Star Wars films (except The Force Awakens), the human relationships feel real.  It's practically a flawless film, as far as I am concerned, except maybe for that bad line reading of "two fighters against a star destroyer?"  It is also telling that it is the film among the first six where George Lucas has the least involvement.  He came up with the story, but Lawrence Kasdan wrote the script, Irwin Kershner had a lot of leeway in directing it, and Gary Kurtz did most of the day to day production on set.  (This also led to those aforementioned cost overruns that also led to Kurtz not taking part in the next film.)  Lucas has a real talent for world building, creative scenarios, and drawing the broad outlines of mythical stories, but he needs other people to translate that story into script and to direct actors to say the lines. Five stars

2. Star Wars
(I categorically refuse to call this A New Hope.)  This film is very very close to being number one, but gets edged out due to the more fully human emotional landscape of Empire and the drama that comes with it.  In any case, it is a truly great film.  It blows me away that something made in 1977 holds up this well.  If not for the sideburns and haircuts, it looks almost contemporary.  It also may be the best edited film ever made, somehow propelling itself forward while leaving room for the extended and slower story of the droids landing on Tattooine.  The lived-in universe this films creates is so rich that we still want to return to it decades later, and it is left so open that so many stories can still be told there. It doesn't just build that world, it hits all the right notes and never fails to surprise.  Thinking about it from the perspective of my first viewing, its crescendo is breath-taking.  After blowing our minds for over an hour and a half, Lucas gives us the assault on the Death Star, which feels light years ahead of the film's beginning, which was light years ahead of 70s sci-fi cinema. Five stars

3. Return of the Jedi
When I was like ten or so, I probably would've put Jedi first.  Since the 80s it's come in for some abuse due to the Ewoks and other factors, but seeing it again it is obvious that this is a really good film.  The Jabba's palace adventure at the start and the three-way battle and duel in the throne room at the end are both fantastic.  Yes the Ewok stuff drags the movie down and slows it up, and Han's role seems weird and ambiguous, but that does not outweigh the greatness elsewhere.  I think Mark Hamill really outdoes himself in this movie, he seems to wear his burden to destroy his father on his face.  By ranking Jedi third, this is less by default and more just to say that while it is really good, it's not as good as the other films in the original trilogy.  Perhaps it gets underrated because after seeing the prequels, the seeds of Lucas' future wrong turns are evident.  The Ewok stuff comes across as silly and motivated more by marketing than by art, a harbinger of Jar Jar. Four and a half stars

4. The Force Awakens
Again, this ranking is based on the fact that films ahead of it are so good, not because this film is not good.  In fact, I think it is really, really good.  As I mentioned before, it is the one film other than Empire that really seems to have nailed human relationships.  I was at the edge of my seat several times in the theater.  Unlike the prequels, it seems to have figured out how to incorporate humor and to introduce new characters that the audience actually cares about.  Some touches, like Finn's origin story, are truly brilliant.  This film so good that I put it just about even with Jedi, in fact.  It doesn't quite make it for me, because some of the derivative elements mirror the 1977 original beyond a reasonable point.  Also, while it does a good job of keeping things mysterious and not over-expositioning, the First Order and its motivations, as well as the status of the Republic, are all murky to the point of distraction.  By trying hard not to make the mistakes of the prequels, TFA may have overreacted in this area. Four and a half stars

5. Revenge Of The Sith
Now here we have a change in one ranking slot, but a sheer cliff drop-off in quality.  When I first saw Sith I thought it flawed but as good or better than Jedi.  Now there is no way I would say anything so ridiculous, especially after rewatching Sith.  Ewan MacGregor gives it his all, and thus makes the final showdown with him and Anakin feel meaningful to the point that I get goosebumps for the only time in any of the prequels.  But my God, some things are just awful.  R2D2 is given ridiculous abilities.  The Jedi bodyguards for Mace Windu are all slayed in a matter of seconds by Palpatine in a way that defies belief.  Key dialogue and the reading of it are dreadful, especially Hayden Christensen's "From my point of view the Jedi are evil."  The "Padme died of a broken heart" thing is a stupid cop-out.  The mission to protect baby Luke and Leia could've been a great movie, and it lasts about five seconds with zero tension.  The destruction of the Jedi, supposedly the greatest warriors in the universe, ends up being as easy as microwaving a burrito.  Frankenvader.  Decades of anticipation went into the storyline of this film, it should have been a big fat pitch over the middle smacked for a home run, but instead it was mashed into the ground for a squeaker of an infield single. Three stars

6. Attack of the Clones
Before this set of rankings, I considered this one the worst, but now that title goes to Phantom Menace. Make no mistake, this is a bad movie.  The romance between Anakin and Padme simply does not work, the dialogue is rotten, and the bad delivery of said dialogue is probably down to the lack of proper direction of actors who have otherwise done well.  I should add that I am not as critical of Hayden Christensen's performance as others are, he's just not given much to work with.  His Anakin comes off as an edgy creep with violence lurking below the surface.  That's a good choice, but it's also very, very jarring after seeing the good-natured kid from the first film, who seems to have none of these characteristics.  Apart from the bad romance and bad direction, the film is bloated (the longest of all of them) and has massive set piece action sequences that don't quite work.  The whole droid factory sequence is useless, and C3PO's "humorous" experiences irritating in the extreme.  The CGI is not all that great and it is so ubiquitous that so many crucial scenes are distractingly fake looking. I give this film a reprieve from the bottom for a few reasons.  In the first place, I like the whole Obi-Wan as detective plot.  It's something a little new for Star Wars and interesting, even if I could do without the Boba Fett origin story.  Some of the design elements are also really cool, especially Coruscant.  Lucas never lost that ability to envision breath-taking worlds.  Last and certainly not least, Christopher Lee is in this and brings his wonderful glower.  Why couldn't he have been in the movie from the beginning, or at least halfway through? Two stars

7. The Phantom Menace
This movie is last because so many bad decisions were made in its conception that marred the prequel series as a whole.  Making Anakin a little boy (and thus making the romance with Amadala creepy.) Centering the plot around poorly explained trade routes that nobody can get into or care about. Midochlorians. Jar Jar. Giving the aliens ethnic stereotype accents. Taking the lived-in universe of the originals and making it all shiny, sheeny, and bland.  It's a shame because the lightsabers are so much cooler and the duels well-executed.  There's some great actors here (McGregor, Neeson, Portman, Jackson) but they look lost or like they are phoning it in, especially in Neeson's case.  This movie also has no real reason to exist, in terms of the larger plot. It is fun in places, but that doesn't come close to saving it.  Two stars

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Track of the Week: Joy Division "Transmission"

Songs from these tracks of the week tend to be things I am listening to at this moment and feel like talking about.  "Transmission," on the other hand, is a song that lives with me, and has for many years now.  Joy Division's music is another kind of experience, listening to it I feel transported to a kind of semi-dreamspace in the back of my mind.  Few others can do that, which probably explains why lonely, introverted teens are still listening to Unknown Pleasures to this day.

My favorite Joy Division song is not on that album, though.  I love the stand-alone single "Transmission" best. I just discovered that it was their first single under the Joy Division name (after going by Warsaw), which is a hell of a way to announce your presence.  The start is just about as perfect as can be, and sums up what made Joy Division great in a matter of seconds.  There is an airy synthesizer chord that seems ominous despite its lightness, and then Peter Hook's bass comes in, tapping out Morse code from some forgotten realm, mimicking the "Transmission" of the title.  Suddenly there's a quick, unorthodox drum fill from Stephen Morris, sounding more spare and angular than anything yet in rock music and then Bernard Sumner's distorted, snaking guitar weaves around the beat, leaving the melody to the bass.  It's all so very strange, and then Ian Curtis' voice intones "Radio/Live transmission" with a hitch, sounding in that instance like a man damaged by the inhumanity of modern life.  In a mere forty seconds, the greatness of Joy Division has been made manifest.  I don't think any other group has managed to distill their essence so magnificently so quickly in their first single.

And it only gets better from there.  Sumner's guitar after the first verse seems to slice the air, and Ian Curtis matches that intensity with his voice rising, to the point where it almost crashes into the wall, before he lowers it a notch and says "dance to the radio" in a flat, dark tone that is about a million miles away from KC and the Sunshine Band.  The song does not end with a flash, but slows down to a halt, like a car breaking down at the side of the road.  It's a song that still thrills me, no matter how many times I've heard it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My AHA Signature Cocktail

Surprised that the hipsters haven't tried to revive this bourbon label

A former student of mine who is now working on her PhD posted an article to Facebook about the "signature cocktails" this year at the annual American Historical Association conference in Atlanta.  These will be served at the various conference hotels, with cute in-joke names like "The Bourbon Restoration."

The article made me chuckle, and not just because of the cocktail names.  When I went to the AHA, I did my fair share of drinking, but very rarely in the overpriced hotel bars.  I was either a broke-ass graduate student or a barely less poor junior scholar, already having to foot the bill for plane tickets and expensive hotel rooms.  For that reason, my signature AHA cocktail was Evan Williams from a bottle bought across the street at a liquor store mixed with warm coke, usually served in a plastic hotel room cup and consumed with other similarly situated friends.  Evan Williams is indeed some cheap, rotgut stuff, but it is the king of cheap rotgut bourbon.  Why?  Because while alone it burns without any smooth bourbon sweetness, mixed with the sugar of the coke it becomes the best twelve dollars ever spent.

I still remember my last night at the DC AHA in 2008, exhausted and punchy hanging out with friends in our room above its legal occupancy to save money, turn of the century tenement style, downing this concoction while speculating if any of our interviews were going to lead to a future job.  (They didn't, but that's another story.)  Unlike those other signature cocktails, it doesn't have a name, but what it lacks in panache it more than makes up for in affordability.

That drink is a reminder of how the AHA's annual conference, perhaps more than anything else, highlights the division between the haves and the have nots among professional historians.  Job seekers are the ones who most desperately need to go to the conference, since their livelihoods depend upon it.  However, they are more likely to be required to pay their own way, despite being the group who can least afford to go.  Those who have secure positions in the professoriate usually have institutions paying their way, which leaves a lot of surplus dough for downing cocktails in the hotel lounge.

I went to the 2015 conference because it was being held in New York and I would get to see a lot of my friends.  It was a wonderful experience.  I took in some cool panels, scouted some good books, and caught up with old grad school chums.  It was entirely liberating to be there because I wanted to, and to have enough money that I wasn't in a constant state of anxiety over what things were costing me.  All I had to do to have a pleasant AHA was to quit the profession.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

80s Pop Cheese For The Winter Blues

We had freakish weather here in the Garden State this holiday season. It felt more like Easter than Christmas, or like Christmas in Houston.  Now a full on winter cold snap has hit, and I am reminded that the older I get, the less I can tolerate winter.  The lack of sunlight is the worst thing, but add the cold and it's unbearable.  There's nothing quite like standing on the train platform in the pre-dawn darkness shivering while hoping that the winter conditions haven't caused any train delays that morning.

In times like these I turn to cheesy music to help get me through, and no decade has stinkier musical cheese than the 80s.  I do not believe in guilty pleasures, we like what we like.  And while I can talk your ear off about a lot of great underground contemporary music, right now in my time of need I want the musical Doritos and aural RC Cola of my youth.  Here's the 80s pop I'm stuffing my ears with right now:

Level 42 "Something About You"

I don't know what it is, but this song just SOUNDS exactly like the 80s.  While there is some decently funky bass lurking here beneath the mannered English singing and smooth harmonies, it's still a shiny, glittery piece of 80s pop cubic zirconia.  I think I still hear this song in waiting rooms from time to time, the perfect forum for smooth 80s pop music.

Bobby Brown "My Prerogative"

I'm not ashamed to admit that this song taught me the meaning of the word "prerogative."  It's got maybe the biggest, dumbest, catchiest rhythm groove of any song to ever hit the top 40 this side of "Louie, Louie" to boot. Bonus points for the prominent keytar in the video.

Laura Branigan "Self Control"

There's a certain kind of darky, synthy 80s pop music that I just can't get enough of.  Chuck Eddy referred to the genre as "flashdance" in one of his books, the music of late nights on rain-slicked streets.  That world is directly evoked in this video, and Laura Branigan's voice sounds weary of desire in a world made of steel, made of stone.  (Sorry, couldn't resist the reference.)  As a kid I loved the effects laden guitar that hits hard after the "Oh Oh Oh" bridge.  This song seemed to be about an adult world that I could barely even comprehend.

Hall and Oates "Out Of Touch"

Hall and Oates made some pretty awesome jams in their early days, and recently they have undergone a bit of a renaissance, and deservedly so.  But man, they started letting their sound get wrapped up in the Big 80s sound circa 1984, draining much of their soul roots in the process.  (The video even uses a giant drum set to drive the big-ness of it all home.)  On this song they really do master that sound, in all of its overproduced, synthetic glory.

Journey "Who's Crying Now"

People like to remember Journey for their romantic power ballads, whether it's the sappy "Open Arms" or the epic "Don't Stop Believing."  They often forget about this song, where I imagine a sleepless Steve Perry at 3AM sitting on his dark stoop smoking a cig and contemplating the dark side of love.  It's so wonderfully moody.

Talk Talk "It's My Life"

The arc of New Wave is long, but it bends towards Talk Talk.

Sade "Smooth Operator"

It's like Roger Moore-era James Bond and Sonny Crockett combined in song form.  Also includes sultry sax, which was never better than it was in the 80s.

Mick Jagger "Just Another Night"

Okay, this one I don't actually like, I just think it's fun to gawk at just how awful and ridiculous Mick Jagger was in the 80s.  It is funny to think that at this point he thought he could ditch the Stones and strike out on his own, when without Keef his music is flimsy at best.  And don't even get me started about the ballet shoes.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Some Fearless And Likely Wrong Predictions For The 2016 Election

I tend to write a blog post predicting events in the coming year each January, but I was going to hold off because it's a fool's game.  The status of the world is so insane right now that predicting the future is about as easy as drinking up the ocean.  I was talking to a close friend on the phone last night about this, and after giving it some thought, just decided what the heck and do it anyway.

Trump Won't Win The Nomination, But Will Make It Interesting
At this point I think that the Republican establishment has made the decision to keep Trump from getting the nomination at whatever the costs.  Those Republicans who aren't Trump voters tend to really dislike him.  Even if he wins a clear plurality of the delegates, he will have to face a brokered convention.  I don't see him getting a majority.  Trump does have a lot of support, obviously, but primary turnouts are low, and his voting base is disconnected and less likely to vote in the first place.  Because he has such weak opposition, however, I don't see one person sweeping in and uniting the "anybody but Trump" forces.

Clinton Will Win The Nomination Easier Than Expected By Going Left
I like Bernie Sanders and intend to vote for him, but I think that his prospects have been overstated by the media due to their interest in making a contest out of it.  He might win one of the early primaries and generate some hype, but that will quickly dissipate. His problem has been that Hilary Clinton has gone left to capture the base.  I think she has gone far enough left that many voters in the base will be satisfied with her.  On top of that, with the international situation getting more uncertain, Clinton gets a huge boost over Sanders.

A Global Event Will Massively Impact the Presidential Election
Didya notice how the Republicans reacted after the terror attacks in Paris?  They know that exploiting fear and ginning up militarism are major winning tactics for them.  That enabled the re-election of George W Bush, and Reagan's appeal to nationalism during the Iran Hostage Crisis was very effective.  Considering the current tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, I am fairly certain that something big is going to happen between those two countries in the coming year.  If not there, then there could be another Paris-style terror attack or San Bernardino shooting or major ISIS offensive in Iraq or Syria.  In the grand scheme of things (like Benghazi), it might not be a huge deal, but the Republicans will do their best to blow it up into something huge.  If it is something huge, then all the better for them.  If Iran and Saudi Arabia go to war, for instance, blame will be laid on the policy of rapprochement with Iran, and by extension, on the Democrats.

Clinton Will Win The General Election In A Squeaker (But A Loss Would Not Surprise Me)
Despite getting the nomination easily, Clinton will have a hard time in the general election.  Turnout is key, and getting voters excited for an establishment candidate will be tough.  A lot of the people who came out for Obama will not come out for Clinton, and the raft of voter ID laws and such will make it harder for Democratic voters to vote.  Polling is showing Republicans who aren't Trump running well against her, and due to super PACs her opponent will be be able to run many more ads.  Clinton will ultimately benefit, however, from the rise of Trumpism, which has continued to alienate Latin and Asian voters from the Republican party.

The Republicans Will Retain Both Houses Of Congress
Because the Democrats will not have high turnout with a Clinton nomination, they will not win the House.  Due to gerrymandering, they need a big wave to move the needle in the House, and they won't get it.  In terms of the Senate, they would need to flip several races, which I don't see happening.  The result of this election will likely be more gridlock and the continuance of the status quo.

Marco Rubio Will Be The Republican Nominee
This is the hardest thing to predict, so I kept it for last.  I really think the election will come down to Rubio or Cruz.  If there is a brokered convention, I think it definitely goes to Rubio, since the establishment will have a greater voice in steering things, and Rubio has a history of getting in good with the big wigs.  In that scenario Cruz loses because everybody who actually has to deal with him hates his guts.  The Republicans always nominate the guy who's "next in line," but there is no one fitting that description this time around, which has enabled Trump.  Bush was the closest to that, but he has clearly screwed up so bad that he has no chance anymore.  I have to think that the establishment will try to make Rubio their man because he is young, smooth, and moderate enough on immigration to prevent further alienation of the Latino vote.  He will provide a great contrast to the elder Clinton, even if Rubio's an old man in a younger man's body.  If he gets the nomination that also gives the Republicans a shot at getting Florida in the general election, and for Clinton to win without Florida will not be easy.  Of course, Rubio still has to win the damn nomination, and his strategy of looking past Iowa and New Hampshire will pay off, I think.  Once the base gets a chance to pitch their little hissy fit early on cooler heads will likely prevail.  If Cruz and Trump split the wingnut vote, all the easier for Rubio.

A Nightmare Scenario Cruz Presidency Is Not Impossible
This isn't so much a prediction as an observation.  As I have mentioned, Clinton has a lot of weaknesses.  She is an establishment candidate when the establishment is reviled.  It is very rare that a party is able to hold the White House for three terms in a row.  Cruz has a shot at the Republican nomination, and he is extremely adept at spinning his bullshit.  If turnout is low, and enough people are seduced by Cruz's bullshit artistry and longing for hawkish rhetoric in a dangerous world, he could win out.  If he gets the nomination he will have a massive propaganda machine at his back, unlimited money to spend, and several swing states where opposition voters will have a harder time getting the ballot.  I think this possibility has maybe a 15% chance of happening, but it still could.  People thought Reagan was too far to the right, too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Crowded House "Don't Dream It's Over"

New Year's Eve has long been one of my favorite holidays, and and New Year's Day one of my least favorite.  It's the day I realize that the holiday season is over, and that I am about to go back to work with the worst months of the year stretched out before me.  In recent years it has become even more difficult because of the deaths of those close to me, and the changing in the calendar reminds me of their loss.  The years keep rolling on, and fewer and fewer people are there with me, either due to distance or dying.

I've tried to take time this new year's season to remember those that I've lost.  The song I choose for this reflection is always "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House.  This might sound like a strange choice, since it's apparently a minor key love song, but I have my reasons.  The first person close to me I ever lost was my dad's father, in April of 1987, on Good Friday after a long illness.  He and my grandmother lived in a tiny town half an hour away, and I swear every time we drove there over the days after my grandfather's death this song was on the radio.  I cannot hear it without thinking about that moment in my life.

I often think about the fact that I was just really getting to know my grandfather as a real person right at the moment he died.  The prior year he had stayed at our house for a couple of weeks while getting treatments at the hospital.  I was at first resentful of the fact that he was sleeping in my bed, and I was now confined to the couch.  I got over that pretty quickly, thankfully.  My grandfather would tell me stories, and as a budding history nerd, they blew my mind. He was born in rural Missouri in 1903, and could thus tell me of a time when he surprised to see cars, not just horse drawn carriages, on the roads.  He was actually in the train station in Kansas City during an infamous 1933 shootout there between gangsters and the police.  More crucially, he wanted to watch baseball every day, and that habit drew me away from the after-school episodes of GI Joe and towards Cubs games on WGN.  My life would never be the same again.

But I never really had the chance to talk baseball with him, even though he lit the spark for my more serious interest in the game.  I watched the '86 World Series intently, and when the 1987 season began I was buying Topps cards like a maniac and checking the daily baseball scores, but he was already in the hospital for good.  I still remember a day, maybe the day of his funeral or the day after, sitting disconsolately on my grandparents' couch in their always underlit, cramped and cluttered living room while looking at the sports page of the Omaha World-Herald and seeing that Bo Jackson, the Royals' great new hope, had struck out five times in his last game.  (Based on my research, this was apparently on April 18, 1987.)  That made a truly rotten day feel even worse.  As I sat on the couch, despondent, my sweet Aunt S. came over to ask if I was all right, and I think I talked about Bo Jackson as a way to deflect the depths of my sadness over my grandfather's passing.

I was talking to my parents on the phone tonight, and my dad retold the story of how my grandfather loved baseball so much that he played on the town team (back when every little town had its own amateur teams) well into middle age, and used an unorthodox cross-handed hitting style to great effect.  For some reason my hands instinctually want to grip a baseball bat that way.  It's my grandfather's blood talking to me.

What I would give to be able to talk to him again.  Listening to this song is the closest I can get.